Staunton, November 18 – Articles predicting in apocalyptic terms that Vladimir Putin’s deals with China will lead to Russia’s loss of Siberia and the Far East are now a regular feature on the Russian blogosphere. But more seriously and in any case more immediately, a Tajik analyst says, Moscow has already ceded its dominance in Central Asia to Beijing.
Parviz Mullodzhanov says in an article on Regnum.ru that “China’s long-term strategy” in the region can be described as moving “’from economics to geopolitics,’” while Russia’s approach to Central Asia is moving rapidly in exactly the opposite direction and with catastrophic results (regnum.ru/news/polit/1866829.html).
To put it bluntly, he argues, “the Chinese leadership is essentially pursuing the very same goals that the current Russian government says it is,” but it is doing so more effectively than Moscow and is emerging as “a more serious geopolitical competitor of Russia” in the region than it has faced in the recent past.
Since 1991, the Russian leadership, largely out of “inertia,” has continued to focus on blocking the expansion of Western and especially American influence in Central Asia and has dismissed China as a serious competitor, “also out of inertia,” because Moscow continued to view it as “a developing country with eternal problems” that won’t be a challenge anytime soon.
As a result, Mullodzhanov says, Russia in its desire to oppose the West has in fact created the preconditions for China’s success there, “by offering it all opportunities (with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union) for the further and long-term strengthening of Chinese influence in the region.”
Beijing has been quick and effective in making use of the opportunities Moscow has offered it. Its strategy is different than that of Russia. Instead of talking about security and ignoring economic issues, Beijing has focused precisely on expanding investment and creating economic infrastructure by offering loans and credits.
China has been successful in this, the Tajik analyst says, because its operatives are not constrained as are those of Western governments and firms by an unwillingness to pay bribes to officials. Given how corrupt the governments in the region are, he continues, that has given China an enormous advantage against them and ultimately against Moscow.
According to Mullodzhanov, China sees the current conflict between Russia and the West over Ukraine as an opportunity to expand its activities in Central Asia still further, and now as in the past, Russia is unwittingly helping it to do so precisely because Moscow remains so focused on the West and the US rather than on anyone else.
One area where it is moving forward rapidly is in its plans to build a new Silk Road through Central Asia. While it remains unclear whether it will achieve its goals in that regard, the analyst says, such a Chinese pathway would represent a threat to Moscow’s interests because it would open a route for China to bypass Russia.
That is a point others have made, pointedly arguing that such a route “could jeopardize” the Siberian route in which Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders have placed so many hopes